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KulSeran

Expansive Timelines in a RTS

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There are several games out now, notably the empire earth series that allow real time gameplay and massive timelines. The age of empires series has a smaller timeline, but a similar advancement setup. There are also many turn based games (civ, alpha centauri...) that have such timelines. The main problem I've seen in these games is the fact that there is no motivation to stay in one age for more time than it takes to gather the resources to advance. This leads to multiplayer gameplay where you spend hours "rushing" to the highest age inorder to defeat the other players. What motivations could be added to force combat to occur at any point in time, and thusly make advancing not quite as usefull? I'd like to hear your thoughts on this, since most the thoughs I had seem like they involve extending the time it takes to do something, thus frustrating the user by prolonging the game.

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One reason I can think of is so you can defend yourself. If you throw all your resources getting to the next age you can get wiped out by an army from the current age. The flipside to this is that if you don't spend any resources on technological advance you can amass a large army and annihilate your enemies.

But as you have already said, there is little motivation to attack early, if they can survive your attack they will be in a better position techwise and you will probably be beaten.

There needs to be a balance between unit production and effectiveness between ages. If you upgrade to a higher age and produce X units I think it would be a better balance if you are equal in army might to a civilisation that just sat producing units the entire time. Of course there needs to be some benefit to getting to a new age otherwise it won't be used...

It could be that advancing to the next age stops further research in some areas, and that you might want to finish that research. It would be a tradeoff, get to the highest age earliest but not having the extra upgrades along the way, or become a specialist in certain areas but not necessarily the highest age.

Basically if you stay in a certain age for a while you get new units or abilities that are also upgraded as you travel up through the ages. To get all possible abilities, units and upgrades you have to stay in each age for a long time. You would want to know before hand which ages have the abilities or units that you want to have, and spend time in that age getting those abilities, quickly passing through the other ages.

Expanding on this, as you pass through each age the additional upgrades that you can get are smaller and smaller, so to get the most 'bang' for your 'buck' you would spend the largest amount of time in the lower ages and quickly pass through the higher ones.

Hopefully this would lead to conflict earlier, if all you have to do in an age to get the additional rewards is just to wait, you may as well do some fightn'. Of course you can go up the ages, but it's in your interest not to.

Just a few ideas...

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I think this is a very difficult thing to add in an RTS game. The problem with this game-mechanic is the following: the master target in a multiplayer-game against a human or computer enemy is to beat them. you can only beat them, by either achieving a higher level of technology (defense style) or by rushing them over (offensive style).

Technology
you first have to build up your stationary defense, capture some resource points, defend them also and in the same time, you also need some mobile elements to keep your flexibility up in case you need to be fast. and while you do all of these things, you have to level up your technology tree and if you are ready, just beat them not with quantity but with pure quality and overwhelming strength. A good example of this are the Protoss from Starcraft.

Rushing
build your attacking and scouting elements up as soon as possible and forget any defensive part of the game. try to make an army fast and hard enough to crush the enemy or to slow up his part of the game. if you can't beat him, try to leave some scouting units in his base and try to kill as much important structures and units as possible.

two, absolutely different strategies. then there are also a lot of strategies mixing the above elements together. but these are the two basic tactical choices, a player has. in both of em, you cannot force the player, to stay in a specific part of the technology (or timeline) tree.

and, finally, there is one big problem with the game mechanic:

Situation
we have a game with three epoches. stone age, medieval and future. if there are stone age units, which get stronger than the one's from medieval, what motivation does a player have, to upgrade to the medieval age? but if you make the stone age units too weak, then this epoche will only be a "jump-over" point in the game. something that you would like to pass over as fast as possible. the solution between the two things lies somewhere in the middle of it.

Theory
you have to motivate the player to do both things. to stay in an age as long as possible AND to let him stay competitive against others, who don't play this way. this needs a lot of flexibility and a whole army of balancing-testers to achieve this target. but if you reach it and if you are able to do a balancing which is perfect in this matter, you have a game that supports both the defensive players and the offensive ones. until today, no RTS achieves this target to both accept defense and offense players...

BTW: My first post, Hi All ;-) *wave*
Mady

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For the rest of this text, consider an "age" as a very central technology which enable many many other technlogies and units.

An obvious quick solution is to increase the resources it takes to get to the next age, thereby presenting players with an oppertunity cost. However, the problem here is that players may avoid going for the new age altogether (if not B > A then A definately >= B). You could also force players to stay a certain fixed time at each age but that's an even worse solution in my mind.

Usually, the economics of advancing to the next age is a question of fixed versus variable cost. The ratio of quality / cost usually gets higher in the next age, thereby giving more strength for the money, thereby decreasing the variable cost if you like. The fixed cost is to advance to that age. One way to measure the utility of advancing to the next age is by comparing the fixed cost versus the "savings" from the new units. In Age of Empires for example, what would be the sense to advance to the iron age if you can produce desirable results in the bronze age, and don't expect the game to last that long?

I'm sorry, but I think it is an inherent property in RTSes to decide whether to aim for the better age or stay the lower age before the game even starts. In the long run, the age with more efficient units obviously is the best since the fixed costs become dwarfed by the variable savings. Players aiming to reach the higher ages will attempt do so within reasonable limits (not totally ignoring defense).

There are exceptions to whether the decision to advance would be based purely on economics and perceived game length. For one, many RTSes have capped unit limits (in fact, most have), in addition to variable limits such as housing. This means, that when your and your enemy's armies are maxed out, the quality of the units will determine the total comparative strengths of the forces. In the long run there is reason to believe at least one player will be able to max out if unless the loses units at a higher rate than he can rebuild them, which cannot last. Once again the question is, will the game be over before then?

Victory conditions also cause deviations. There may be completely impossible to win in some of the earliest ages (getting to the age itself as a victory condition is the most obvious one). Still, in AoE players did manage stone age rushes on standard maps. A victory from a stone age rush has to hamper the enemy so much that the rush was worth it though, because the food required to produce the clubman could also have been used to get to the tool age.

I'm too tired to continue thinking, good night.

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I think easy way to encorage early fighting is the way warcraft 3 does it - by introducing hero units that gain experience, you are given a need to explore the map and fight 'creeps'. As you explore, you're bound to find enemy bases, and they want your hero dead so they attack it. If you're fast, you can kill a few important buildings (usually the houses) and survive to amass an army and kill their crippled base.

Of course, it isn't quite that simple, but hopefully you get the idea. Encouraging scouting with 'important' units like wc3 does with heros is an easy way to encourage all 3 of building defense, building units, and upgrading technology at the same time.

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Quote:
Original post by KulSeran
What motivations could be added to force combat to occur at any point in time, and
thusly make advancing not quite as usefull?


You can achieve this by making combat an essential activity. And you can do that by creating many contact points between the factions. In Shogun Total War, you need to seize territories to get resources, you can't just stay at one location and try to tech jump. The design is also like Kohan, where technology is local (some of your towns are in iron age, some are not, if you concentrate in one town, your other towns can only crank out sucky units, and you don't have the overall strength to defend the resources to sustain the upkeep of your expensive units, plus you can't crank out anything if your town is under siege).

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The criteria for progressing to the next age of civilization is usually just the number of resources obtained, instead of how much 'experience' the civililzation has with the current technology, and thus, ways in which it could be improved (next stage in the tech tree).

Consider having military progression limited by how many 'points' the player has obtained by fighting in battles. The bigger the battle, the more points, and are not just obtained for winning, but obviously a bonus would be in order. This would encourage the players to fight from an early age, and with large bonuses for victories, would make players think more about engagement tactics.

Rise Of Nations employs a similar sort of advancement throttle with the use of libraries. Whilst these do not require active player involvement, it does encourage players to expand(only one university per city), thus giving them more knowledge points, to spend on technologies.

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How about tech-stealing? You spend all your money on R&D until you have 5 space marines with plasma rifles, then one enemy spy comes over and steals the plans for the rifle and the production facility. Then he goes back to his bronze-age home, with its army of 7000 spear-throwers, and builds 7000 plasma rifles. Now you get overrun by savages with laserguns. Rats.

If your advancement to the next "age" makes it easier for everyone else to advance up to that level, then it might be worthwhile to stay low and work on military viability.

Edit: I didn't want to reference StarCraft, but here I go: Zerg tech is the most distinctly "tiered" tech in the game, and it's a really good example of this system. WIth a hatchery, you can only make the most rudimentary units: drones, zerglings and hydralisks. Yet you can beat an opponent with quick unit production and some good micro. Lair tech unlocks air units and things like lurkers, which deepen play and complicate strategy considerably. Zerg Hive tech is almost unbeatable, thanks to ultralisks, defilers and super-air units, but it's nearly impossible to reach that tech level without being totally stormed while you save up to pay for it. If you do make it, smaller unit counts become a real problem, and the price of units is obscene.

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By reading this i got another idea - which might not solve the problem but offer a different way of advancement in tech.

What if on the map there are locations (towns/bases etc) initially not controled by the player. Each of them has a unique building (?) that allows to research in certain direction or specifique subject(s).

This way the players have to battle over different locations in order to research things. Could be the same with resources maybe. Special resources that allow to go up in the Ages.

It's not the most logical things - but who cares - its a game with rules. And it sounds to me as an interesting twist.

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The same style as they used in Warhammer 40k - Dawn of War with these resource spots. I think, this is a great idea. But then, you have the twist between defense and offense players again...

Mady

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